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Review: JPAS stages Tarzan: The Musical 

An impressive production of the Broadway hit

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Photo by Joshua Frederick

Tarzan: The Musical, based on the Disney film, was created for young audiences, but there is plenty in Jefferson Performing Arts Society's (JPAS) production to fascinate adults. The Broadway adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' jungle fantasy is a spectacle, and JPAS delivers startling sound effects and lighting, gorgeous costuming, acrobatic choreography, aerial feats and an orchestral score (composed by rocker Phil Collins) conducted by Dennis Assaf.

  Disney changed Tarzan of the Apes to be more appropriate for children. A leopard, not the ape king Kerchak (Louis Dudoussat), kills Tarzan's parents. An Englishman, not Tarzan, murders Kerchak. Tarzan never learns French and does not move to Wisconsin seeking Jane. Although the story about a boy adopted by wild apes has been modified dramatically, lessons about universal love, humanity and the rich animal kingdom endure.

  As the curtain opens, two European shipwreck survivors have washed ashore off the equatorial coast of Africa. After building a treehouse, setting up housekeeping and having a baby, the couple is killed by a leopard (Lauren Gutierrez), which leaves their baby untouched. The child is discovered by a female ape, Kala (Marie Becnel), who accepts him, singing beautifully "You'll Be in My Heart." Against the wishes of her mate Kerchak, Kala decides to move away from the troop to raise Tarzan as her own. Burroughs' Mangani Great apes are a fictional species, theoretically resembling humans in stature, and they have their own language. Young Tarzan (Wesley Adams) is confused by his ancestry ("I Need to Know") until he meets a British anthropological team and becomes infatuated with Jane Porter (Christian Tarzetti).

  There are outstanding performances, particularly those of Adams, James Royce Edwards (adult Tarzan), Becnel, Dudoussat and Luke Halpern (Terk), but the show's pleasure also lies in its impressive production aspects. Costume designer Emily Billington studied gorillas to capture their bodies' natural beauty. Each fabulously iridescent coat was fabricated from 17 yards of dyed and airbrushed lycra spandex cut into long strips of multicolor fringe that swing with every tumble. To imitate apes' muscular arms and chests, male dancers' arms and shoulders are heavily padded, as are their knuckles so they can walk on all fours. Laurin Hart's theatrical makeup completes the bestial effects.

  Choreographer Kenneth Beck researched how gorillas nest, carry their young and show emotions, then put dancers through a workshop incorporating movements from Russian folk dance, English hornpipe and breakdancing. Dancers lope sideways across the floor, cartwheeling and rolling playfully in the set's jungle habitat.

  Bobby Hedglin-Taylor and Paul Rubin choreographed aerial and acrobatic flying sequences, enabling the apes to swing through the air. With the help of a six-member fly crew and four-member deck crew, Tarzan and Jane are lifted to the ceiling and over the audience.

  Tarzan is a highly romantic tale that leaves barely a dry eye in the house.


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